Music, For Free?
In August, I read something in the news that chilled me to the bone. It wasn’t a story about some economic crisis that could potentially throw us back into the dark ages (although there was a few of those); it was a piece about copyright law…
“Vince Cable, business secretary, will on Wednesday move to legitimise the “ripping” of digital copies of music and movies from discs for personal use, following recommendations in the Hargreaves review of intellectual property.”
I was shocked! Ripping CDs to my computer has been illegal all this time? I could’ve been walking around Manchester, and the police might have ignored the rioters, and arrested me just for listening to my iPod!
I’m guessing that this new regulation will take some time to go through The Houses of Commons and Lords. So until that time, I’m going to play it safe, and only listen to music that I’m legally allowed to. Why risk it?! I could get tracks from iTunes, but that’s pretty expensive. Instead, I’m only going to listen to music which has been released for free on the internet. In case you feel like doing the same, I’ve written the following reviews of artists and albums which are safe for the iPod…
Brad Sucks is a self-described “One man band with no fans”, whose first album is titled “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing”. The one man in question, Brad Turcotte, is clearly lacking in self-confidence. He has no reason to be; his music is easily as good as anything you would buy in the shops, albeit a little bit more low-fi. He’s truly DIY; he plays guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. He’s not a virtuoso at any of them, but it doesn’t matter. The aforementioned debut album was released in 2003, and it was a really strong collection of clever indie rock songs. A follow-up, Out Of It, was released in 2008. I’m not sure what he was doing in the intervening years, because not much changed in terms of musicianship, recording quality or subject matter. On both albums, he sounds like a lovelorn, disaffected slacker. On paper, his music shouldn’t work at all, but his clever lyrics and good ear for a melody makes his one man band better than the sum of its part.
You might not have heard of Harvey Danger, but you’ll certainly have heard at least one of their songs; “Flagpole Sitta” is used as the theme tune to Channel 4’s Peep Show. Founded in 1993, the band took the traditional rock band route until 2005, when they chose to release this, their third album, for free. Presumably they were well aware that they had a “cult status” at best, and were unlikely to shift many copies if they charged people $13.99. The songs are mostly about hipster angst (the phrase “studio apartment” is used at least once). The lyrics are clever, but lead-singer Sean Nelson seems well aware of this and belts them out in an operatic style, which makes him seem pretty smug. It veers quite close to “Scrubs Rock” for my tastes. I may be being a bit too harsh on this album; it’s pretty good and is likely to appeal to fans of The Barenaked Ladies and Ben Folds. Geeks, basically.
Allison Crowe is a singer-songwriter-pianist from British Columbia. Following the lead of other independent female artists, such as Ani DiFranco, she set up her own record label, to distribute her CDs. But she also makes all her music freely available on the internet. She records mostly solo or with a small backing band, live in the studio, with no overdubs. She has a beautiful, strong voice and sings in an honest way: not Aguilera-like over-singing. I’d describe her as a less quirky Tori Amos. A fair few of her songs are cover versions, but unfortunately they aren’t available for free, probably for legal reasons. It’s a shame, because her stripped down versions of familiar songs are refreshingly free of studio trickery.
The name says it all with this one. It’s simply fixed-tempo dance mixes for runners, joggers, etc. It’s not just bleeps and chirrups; to my untrained ears it sounds like pretty good dance music, complete with samples etc. All the tracks are available for free, as podcasts. The title of each track handily tells you how many beats-per-minute the mix is. There are many different tempos to choose from, to suit whatever exercise you’re planning to do.
Jonathan Coulton is a Geek Rock hero, who’s possibly best known for writing the songs for the Portal video games. Several years ago, he left his steady job as a computer programmer to try and make it as a singer-songwriter. He bravely eschewed the traditional approach to a music career and sold his songs on his website. In 2005, he also launched a project called ‘Thing A Week’, which, as the name suggests, involved him writing and recording a new song every week, for a year. He uploaded the songs to iTunes, where they can be downloaded as free podcasts. The quality of the songs varies, but overall it’s a really strong collection. Be sure to check out his ballad about an office zombie invasion: “Re: Your Brains”, and his ode to simian-like web developers: “Code Monkey”.